BLACKSBURG, VA – Blemished by his off-field antics, quarterback Michael Vick looks to learn from his painful past and return to the top of the sport he once dominated.
“Two days after I got off home confinement — July 22, 2009, to be exact — was the first time in eight months I got to pick up a football and really throw it,” Vick told David Fleming of ESPN The Magazine months after his release from the Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas.
In August 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to “Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture” and was imprisoned for 23 months.
Drafted with the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, the Virginia Tech Hokies’ superstar was considered a one-of-a-kind talent and the face of his franchise. Vick’s ability to create opportunities for his team with skillful footwork, speed and throwing ability made him a defense’s nightmare.
“I was never worried about my arm,” Vick told ESPN regarding his physical ability after being released from prison. “I’ll be able to throw a football when I’m 60, but the thing I worried about most was my legs.”
Even in college, Vick’s ability to make plays with his legs was always his strongest facet. Vick holds numerous NFL records for rushing as a quarterback, which include 173-yards in a single game, seven 100-yard rushing games, and most yards in a single season with 1,039.
Despite the on-field success Michael had, the illegal market for dog fighting became a priority in his life. Registered with friends under the name “Bad Newz Kennels”, Vick supported the unlawful organization financially.
Vick’s dog fighting was not the initial issue that Virginia officials intended to bring to an end. On April 25, 2007, a search warrant as part of a drug investigation for Davon Boddie, Vick’s cousin, led to the discovery of unlawful dog-fighting evidence at a piece of property owned by Vick in Surry County, Va.
Financial issues surfaced when Vick filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection on July 7, 2008, being $10 million to $50 million in debt. Vick owed an additional $3.75 million to the Atlanta Falcons for his pro-rated signing bonus that was voided upon his arrest.
Once released from prison, Vick’s off-field trouble continued and he was dropped from all his major endorsements including Nike, EA Sports, Coca-Cola and many others. While free on bail, Vick also failed a random urine test for marijuana.
Although he was bankrupt, money didn’t matter to Vick because he lost his family. Crushed by his past, Vick told FOX Sports, “every week in prison I had to watch my fiancé and my kids leave me behind. That hurt.”
In early 2009, Michael Vick hit rock bottom. The one time superstar, estimated to have made $25.4 million in 2006, was bankrupt, had no endorsements and no team to play for, but still Vick was thankful for his jail time.
“I still wouldn’t change that I went to prison,” Vick said. He knew change was needed to rid his old lifestyle and prison was the only way to accomplish that.
Tony Dungy, a well-respected NFL head coach, heavily mentored Vick during his probation and taught him what it would take to return to the NFL. Dungy’s impact became apparent when Vick told ESPN, “I feel like I’m probably better than I ever was in my career, as far as the mental aspect of my game.”
On August 13, 2009, Vick signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles worth $1.6 million. He was third on the quarterback depth chart behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb, but understood his role on the team as more than a back-up player.
On the field for the first time in three years, Vick played for the Eagles in special situations. Vick appeared in 12 games and had three total touchdowns, but none more special than the two he scored in front of the Atlanta Falcons’ fans in the Georgia Dome on December 6th, 2009.
“They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done,” a teary-eyed Vick said of the Atlanta faithful. “It was as loud as it gets in the Dome.”
After the 2009 season concluded, Vick began touring the country to raise money for various causes. In April 2010, Vick went back to Blacksburg, VA, home of the Virginia Tech Hokies, for the first time since his arrest.
“I appreciate what you’ve done, taking the time to get up on an early morning to have something signed,” Vick told Planet Blacksburg in a message to his fans. “That’s special to me and really gratifying.”
Vick’s good fortune continued during the NFL off-season when Donovan McNabb, the Eagles 11-year starting quarterback, was traded to the division rival Washington Redskins. The trade will allow Vick to compete for the starting quarterback position having signed a contract extension through the 2010 season on March 9, 2010.
“This is good in two ways because I’m a Redskins fan,” Elite Group Manager AJ Thomson Jr. said of McNabb being traded to Washington. “The Redskins get an experienced quarterback and my good friend Mike gets a chance to start again.”
Vick has not been a starting quarterback since 2006, but feels that he can still compete at a high level and expects the physical aspect of his game to return easily. Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid feels Vick is a legitimate candidate for the starting job.
“We like Kevin Kolb and we like Michael Vick,” Reid said to ESPN.com about the quarterback competition for the 2010 season. “It’s a pretty good situation to be in as we go into the offseason.”
Now, the 29-year-old Michael Vick has signed with a championship contender, has a world of talent, and sees the opportunity once again to take the NFL by storm, but all of this is on his backburner.
“I don’t dictate when I play,” a smiling Vick said as he explained his future goals. “I just want to be able to give my team the best chance to win.”